Even Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, vice chair of the Philippines' coronavirus task force, is against easing physical distancing measures on public transportation.
Defying the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Transportation (DOTr) reduced the required distance between commuters starting Monday, September 14.
The DOH on Monday stood by its recommendation to keep a 1-meter distance per commuter, and Año also aired his own reservations – revealing yet again the discordant voices within the Duterte government in fighting the coronavirus
"Personally, I would like to abide by the 1-meter standard of physical distancing. If we can actually provide more transport to our people rather than reducing the distance," Año said in an interview on ANC.
Año is one of the key Duterte Cabinet secretaries overseeing the government's coronavirus response. Despite his reservations, the government has eased the required distance between commuters, from 1 meter to only 0.75 meter starting Monday.
The government is even planning to further ease the the restrictions to as low as 0.3 meter in the coming weeks, according to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
The easing of commuting rules comes as the Philippines continues to record thousands of new coronavirus cases per day. The country's caseload surpassed 261,000 on Sunday, September 13, with more than 3,000 new cases reported for the 6th straight day.
One of the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic is the transport industry.
The pandemic has decimated the maximum capacity of all public transportation vehicles to 50%, further reducing the available options for Metro Manila's struggling commuters.
Transportation groups earlier suggested that the government increase the transportation system's capacity by hiring drivers and transportation service providers like inactive bus companies.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, jam-packed modes of public transport have long been a problem in the Philippines, which has suffered a lack of transportation infrastructure for years. Experts have long feared that public transport, if left unrestricted, can further fuel the rise in coronavirus cases in the country. – Rappler.com
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.